Activism vs. Slacktivism A False Dichotomy
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It is appropriate to begin with a definition of terms. Bordiga says of Activism:
“Activism always claims to possess the correct understanding of the circumstances of political struggle, and that it is “equal to the situation”, but it is incapable of engaging in a realistic evaluation of the relations of force, enormously exaggerating the possibilities of the subjective factors of the class struggle.”
For the purpose of this article, I will use the word Activism to refer to any action with ostensibly revolutionary intent that winds up being divorced from fighting for material gains for the working class. The easiest example of Activism is given to us in the form of party-building where members are recruited in to a purportedly revolutionary party for the sole purpose of growing said party. The growth of the party’s membership is the sole intended purpose, members are not recruited in order to have larger numbers of people that can help organize a strike committee or fund raise to pay legal fees. Newly recruited members or people considering joining any given party may ask themselves the question “what next?” What happens after they join this party? Maybe they help organize marches, ensuring that all participants in the march are solicited to join the party. Maybe they meet with striking workers, ensuring that all strikers get to hear about how their unions are betraying them and that the only way forward is to join their party. Maybe they participate in a big conference where everyone gets together to talk about the problems under capitalism, and how we need to have more people in the party. Maybe they sell newspapers that ultimately direct the reader to purchase copies of the party leaders’ latest books while simultaneously soliciting them to join the party. Eventually after doing this for so long members either find themselves in high levels of the party where the positive health of the party offers material benefits, or they reach burn-out.
After burning out on Activism, some will begin to embrace the armchair and switch over to Slacktivism. Ex-party members will see, with fresh eyes, how cultish and strange their old party was. They will begin to understand that Activism does not offer a way forward for the working class, and that it is largely a practice in self-aggrandizement. Having been surrounded by party members that constantly speak down to the working class, preaching to them that the only way forward is to join the party, ex-members begin to concoct theoretical alibis to excuse a lack of real-world activity. The Slacktivist boasts of their inactivity, and condemns all exercise in real-world activity as a dead-end because it is the working class that must emancipate itself and not a self-ordained party. Simply put, the Slacktivist ultimately views the working-class as capable of taking care of itself, and as such sees no role for the communist in a communist revolution.
A very few, however, will see the dead-end in both of these routes. They will understand that growing a party offers no material benefit to the working class. They will read Engels when he says “In our eventful time, just as in the 16th century, pure theorists on social affairs are found only on the side of reaction and for this reason they are not even theorists in the full sense of the word, but simply apologists of reaction.” and long for a meaningful activity. I hope that you are of this opinion.
As with so many other “this or that” choices in politics and life more generally, the choice to engage in either Activism or Slacktivism is yet another false dichotomy which we reject in favor of action aimed at improving the living standards of the working class. This is merely a restatement of Marx when he says “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” or “The philanthropy of atheism is therefore at first only philosophical, abstract philanthropy, and that of communism is at once real and directly bent on action.” It should be clear from these quotes that Marx associates the communist with “action” or “enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class.” What makes a communist a communist is not what s/he believes, says, or thinks, but what s/he actually does. But this is not enough, your local food bank is unlikely to be a communist organization even though they offer direct material aid to the working class. Why? I will again quote Marx at length.
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”
The communist, therefore works not only to the immediate material benefit of the working class, but also looks to link these efforts up with the larger movement of working class emancipation while refusing to ever sacrifice a part of the class.